by Mary Z.
Several months ago Holly said in her sermon that we need to support each other not only to sustain and thrive but also when we need to let go. That struck a powerful chord and I thought immediately of the day many years ago when my mother’s VW camper broke down for the last time. That day has haunted me for its pathos and also because I didn’t fully recognize and do justice to a beloved parent who was reluctantly and painfully in the process of letting go. At the time I tried to explain to my children why Grandma had driven the VW in the first place rather than her car. This was not so easy to appreciate for the 7 of us standing on the shoulder of I-35 near tiny Swaledale, Iowa in the burning August heat.
My parents bought their new VW bus camper in 1970. They travelled all over the country in it for a dozen years and were planning even longer trips after my father retired when, just a few months after that occurred, he suffered a fatal heart attack. My mom tried to go ahead and take the VW on the road by herself, but that proved difficult. So she limited camper road trips to our annual family vacation trip to northern Minnesota. We didn’t camp in it, but she kept it fully outfitted anyway. We would take two vehicles and one or two of us would ride with her. We didn’t question why the camper was included unless it disrupted our trip, which it did on several occasions. One year the trip got postponed a full day because blue smoke was pouring out of it, which eventually was attributed to an oil rag left in the exhaust system. Another year my sister and my junior high son had to push it through a Minneapolis intersection during a major thunderstorm. But even then, no one dared to suggest that she no longer drive it.
So many times after she died and as I have gotten older, I have wished that I had had the insight and clarity to explain to my annoyed children that for my mother that camper represented her marriage, retirement dreams, and a lingering connection to my father. Perhaps I could have better helped them understand that their grandmother was struggling not to let that go, and needed us to understand and be gentle.
We waited several hours together with mom in Swaledale’s only gas station garage. They couldn’t fix the camper. It was getting late. Finally, we called around and found a place that would rent us an empty moving truck big enough to legally pull a VW bus back to Kansas. No one said much. My mother must have been hurting but she took it in stride. Eventually the VW did get fixed, but it never went on another vacation road trip. My sister’s husband thought he might be able to sell it so my mother gave it to him. I never saw it again. This summer I started my own partial retirement and I, too, made the trip up I-35 to Minnesota. As often happens, I teared up as I passed the Swaledale exit sign. I thought about how hard it had been for mom to let go of that camper and all it stood for. I regretted as I always do that I had not hugged her more and told her that I understood and that we were all with her on the road ahead.
Help us in those times when we have to let go. Give us strength and courage and light the way forward.
We walk together, so we pray also for wisdom, insight and empathy in order to be supportive to others around us who are experiencing transitions and difficult changes. Amen.
Mary is a founding member of Peace Church, and continues to help us grow in our faith. With her deep Kansas roots, love of music, and activist spirit, she has studied and taught about health care and social inequality at KU for many years, and truly inspires us all to do what we can.